NIKE AJAX AND HERCULES
ORDNANCE SUPPORT UNIT
SHORT, TALL STORIES
Air Defense Artillery
This is one of the truly unknown stories of Redstone Arsenal and the old USAOGMS. As you will see, it had nothing to do with missiles, but it was a job that needed doing during a very hectic time period.
On my return from Korea in October 1965 I was reassigned to the US Army Ordnance Guided Missile School. On arrival, I'd expected to be assigned as either an instructor or as a maintenance technician in the NIKE Division of the Air Defense Department. That didn't happen.
The Vietnam War was really underway in earnest. The build-up of troops "in country" had started and the Army needed experienced ordnance ammunition people to form new ammo supply units. With the recent arrival of all ammo courses from Aberdeen Proving Ground, OGMS had to use missile people to fill out the Ammunition Department cadre. I found myself assigned as a project officer in the General Ammunition Division, scheduling courses, classrooms, hardstands, transportation to training sites, late meals and doing whatever else was needed to handle two (later three) shifts per day of ammo courses and classes.
An aspect of the Ammunition Storage and Handling Course that needed improvement centered on practical exercises which required students to load ammo in various types of cargo vehicles. We had a fairly large hardstand, 36-1, that was used for this purpose. We set up some salvaged "deuce-'n-a-half" truck cargo beds, mounted on used railroad ties. Fortunately, there was also a railroad spur running into the area so we spotted a real boxcar and a real flat car there to teach railcar loading. We also managed to get hold of an H-21 helicopter fuselage and one other "chopper" body (the model of which I don't remember). But someone decided our training aids weren't complete.
A large cargo aircraft was still needed. In February 1966 I was reassigned to the Storage Branch as an ammo course instructor. But my first job, I was told, was to get a USAF C-119 aircraft positioned on Hardstand 36-1. OGMS had made arrangements with the Oklahoma Air National Guard for acquiring a surplus C-119 "Flying Boxcar" cargo transport plane. The chief of the Storage Branch and I went to Redstone Army Airfield to meet the plane. Flying out of Tinker AFB to RSAAF on a one-way trip, the aircraft had just enough fuel and radio and navigation equipment to get to Redstone. The plane landed and was taxied to an area where it would be out of the way. As the pilot said as he walked away from the plane "It's all yours, guys." He and the copilot flew back home on a commercial flight.
My boss was more than happy to turn the project over to me at that point. "Just get it to the hardstand in one piece Chief, without damaging anything or killing anyone." I asked for a certain NCO (whose name now I don't remember) to stay with me for the whole project. For troop labor, I'd have to use "duty soldiers"---kids who were awaiting courses or reassignment. Quantities and names would vary, depending on their availability. I also had access to help from the motor pool and the post maintenance shop for logistical support. It took about a week to set up the basic plan and get with the airfield personnel to use their facilities. Then the "fun" began.
The plane still had (probably) about 200 to 250 gallons of aviation gasoline aboard. That had to go. We couldn't dump it on the ground (more out of safety rather than environmental considerations at that time). Anyway, the petcocks for draining the tanks simply dribbled the gas out; that would take far too long. An Army aircraft maintenance NCO and I hit on the solution---run the engines till they run out of gas. No sweat! But how do we "fire this baby up"? I remember the two of us, in the cockpit, this Sergeant First Class at the controls and me half-crouched beside him---reading the instructions out of an Air Force tech manual!!! But we got those engines going. The wheels had been chocked and the parking brake was set so the sergeant pulled back on the throttle to really rev up the engines. I thought that "bird" would move for sure! The plane did a lot of bucking and vibrating but it stayed put. We figured that running at about half-throttle should do it. Full-out would be too dangerous and near-idle would take too long. We had fired the engines at about mid morning and it was mid afternoon before they ran out of gas.
This was great. But then I realized that we might have a problem with AVGAS vapors---even more dangerous than the liquid. I called for a water tank truck and we "fueled" the gas tanks with water. Next came de-militarization. The plane came with a list of equipment to be removed from the plane and shipped back to different Air Force supply depots---radios, navigation equipment, some other cockpit gear and the engines. The engines were to be removed and shipped back to Tinker AFB. Electronic and small gear we could handle, but the engines---absolutely no way! After several calls to Tinker, I managed to get the item manager of the engines and told him that if the Air Force wanted the engines, "You come and get 'em." We (the Army) weren't doing it (for obvious reasons) and besides, the engines had three overhauls already, according to their maintenance logs. Furthermore, water was already in the gas lines and the engines were probably worthless by now. The guy at Tinker said "Forget it." We moved along.
The next step was to figure how we'd get the plane to the site. The quick way would be to have a CH-54 "Sky Crane" helicopter simply pick up the C-119 and airlift it to 36-1. That idea was discarded for several reasons. The best bet: move the C-119 on its own landing gear, using a truck to tow it. Not bad. Now---what route? I did a thorough recon of the Redstone Arsenal road net, taking into consideration overpasses, underpasses and overhead power and phone lines which crossed the roadways. The route finally selected led from the airfield to Rideout Road to Goss Road to Vincent Drive. Everything was great until we got to that 90 degree bend where Vincent Drive turned onto Aerobee(?) Road. The route would then take us through a very congested OGMS area with more 90 degree turns to get to the hardstand. We'd never get through that. I'm not sure how it came about, but someone gave the OK to bulldoze a wide lane through the brush from Vincent Drive through to the street adjacent to the hardstand. The brush was cleared, the dirt packed down and a layer of gravel spread and compacted. The hardtop roads had a connection. This gravel lane soon became the hardtop road which now exists in that area.
While that was going on the duty soldiers were at work, doing partial disassembly of the C-119. It had been already determined that we'd have a clearance problem over any route if we didn't reduce overall size. I'd been told to keep external damage to the plane to a minimum, which we did. But as long as it didn't show, we simply hacked, chopped and cut, working only with hand tools borrowed from the RSAAF's aircraft maintenance people. The first step was to remove each outer wing section at a joint just outboard of the engine housing---a tedious process to unfasten hundreds of screws and dozens of bolts. We had no handling equipment other than a 5-ton wrecker to handle the outer wing sections but they came off easily enough. (Fairchild Aircraft had to have designed this plane with just this sort of maintenance environment in mind!) Next to come off were the twin vertical stabilizers on the rear. They were more of a problem, but we got them removed with only minor damage. We now had the plane within acceptable vertical and horizontal clearance limits.
[This is keeping a long story short; it took every bit of two weeks for the duty soldiers to do all this.]
We also needed a special towbar which could be mated with the tow hitch on the nose landing gear; the other end of the bar would fasten to a truck towing pintle. Dimensions were figured out and the towbar was specially fabricated. It was decided to use a tactical 5-ton wrecker as the prime mover, although I had some doubt about it being able to pull the plane up that hill at the west end of Goss Road.
After nearly six weeks of work, we were ready to roll. As I recall, we made the move in early April 1966. Not bad, considering that the aircraft had arrived in late February. Moving at about ten miles per hour, it took a little over an hour to cover the distance. We had an MP escort and started out at about 1000 hours. Traffic delay was not too extensive---unless one happened to be following us. But for a few brief moments, some folks along the route were treated to a sight they'd never see again: A full-size Air Force transport plane being towed across Redstone Arsenal. We got to the hardstand and, having removed part of the fence beforehand, we rolled right in. The move had been accomplished without any problem. The plane was parked in its assigned spot and we all congratulated one another for doing a near-impossible job. I was happy it was done.
But---not so fast, Chief. The commander of the Ammo Department thought the plane looked so good that it ought to be cosmetically restored---we had to reinstall the outer wing sections and vertical stabilizers. My duty soldiers outdid themselves this time. We figured that with such a relatively large plane in such a relatively small space, people will have to wonder: "How in the hell did that plane get there?!" A person could not tell from any distance beyond a hundred yards or so that the plane had any disassembly damage.
I went back to work as an ammo instructor for another couple of months and then, in June 1966, transferred to the Officer Training Department as an instructor on NIKE missile and launcher equipment. I had two more tours of duty at Redstone after that, and when I left for good in 1975, the C-119 "Flying Boxcar" was still at the hardstand. I have no idea what happened to it, but I know it's no longer there. I never publicized this operation, so the Redstone Rocket never ran an article on the actual move. I never thought it important at the time, but now I wish I had. Undoubtedly, peoples' curiosity has been aroused over the years, but no one except those few people involved at the time, knows the whole story. I wasn't the only one working on it, but as the project officer, I coordinated with a lot of agencies. I was, as the saying goes, "the man with the plan".
Looking back on it all, I find it rather amazing now: I spent over fifteen years on active duty in the NIKE business, and the most challenging assignment I ever had had nothing to do with missiles.